Culture of a community is known to influence the health of the community, both positively and negatively. Man living in a social environment is affected by his surroundings and how he reacts to it. Many cultural practices in Nigeria either have a positive health impact or a negative impact. We will discuss below how health ties into Nigerian culture and how certain beliefs influence health.
Certain cultural practices like “Tamako” – a system of offering assistance to the sick has positive health effect e.g., it is helpful in reducing the hospital bills (Idehen, 2007). Some practices like offering food and gifts to nursing mothers help improve their nutritional status. Sexual abstinence during lactation period only helps in family planning. This is widely practiced among the Igbos (Idehen, 2007). However, some other cultural practices have just helped in increasing the prevalence of certain diseases in Nigeria. Negative cultural practices like child marriage, wife gifts, child fostering, and body scarifications are also practiced. Some other negative cultural practices are using cow dung to clean the umbilical cord in new borns, children being denied nutritious food like eggs due to fear that the child may become a thief, and circumcision of genitals in both the genders negatively impacts the health of an individual as well as society (Idehen, 2007).
The high prevalence of malaria is also related to certain cultural practices and beliefs – the African way of building houses that encourage entry of mosquitoes, storing of water in pots after rainfall, vegetations grown around the house – all only lead to breeding of mosquitoes (Duke, 2007).
The immunization coverage is also low in Nigeria. Diseases that can be prevented by vaccines account for approximately 22% of deaths in children. Most infants lose their lives due to diseases like polio, TB, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and polio (Child survival factsheet, 2010). A persistent pocket of polio transmission is the main epidemiological challenge (Child survival factsheet, 2010). This is primarily because the culture of certain Nigerian population influences the immunization programmes. Parents explore many ways of protecting their child against diseases. Childcare is like a ritual. It means investment in child care would bring security to the parent in old age (Jegede,2005).
Nigeria also has the highest number of female genital mutilation. It is an unhealthy practice and has been going on traditionally in Nigeria, and still widespread. This is done when a woman steps into woman hood to ensure her virginity and curb promiscuity. Importantly, the girl’s undergoes the practice without informed consent and do not have the opportunity to make independent decision about her body (Okeke, 2012).Adverse reactions to this practice are many from pain to hemorrhage. Some complications are infection, urinary retention due to damage to the urethra or anus, dysmenorrhea, sexual difficulties, chronic pelvic infection, and acquired gynatresia (Okeke, 2012).
In Nigeria, the first case of HIV/AIDS was reported in 1984 and since then the number of persons infected is increasing rapidly (Oluwabamide, 2008). Every year the number is only rising, but it seems to go under reported. This is due to inadequate screening centers and number of people refusing to go for screening (Oluwabamide, 2008). The incidence is more particularly in blood donors, tuberculosis patients, clients at STD clinics, truck drivers, commercial sex workers and their clients (Oluwabamide, 2008). Moreover, the language of disseminating the information on HIV/AIDS is English, but a large percentage of Nigerians live in rural areas where majority of them are not educated enough to understand English (Oluwabamide, 2008). It would help to use their local language to assimilate the message and consequently change their habits.
Idehen, C.O. (2007) Insights into Benin Traditional methods of Disease Prevention in the Journal of Pan African studies, 1 (8), 118.
Duke A. (2007) Cultural Practices and Health:The Nigerian Experience. Medikka. Journal of University of Nigeria Medical Students. Retrieved from: http://medikkajournal.com/culturalpractices.htm
Child Survival Factsheet. (2010) World Health Organization (WHO) Immunization Schedule in Nigeria. Retrieved from: http://childsurvivalnetwork.info/resources/Immunizations+Factsheet.pdf
Jegede AS. (2005) The Cultural and Political Dynamics of Technology Delivery: The Case of Infant Immunisation in South western Nigeria. West African Social Science and Immunisation Network (WASSIN) paper 3. Retrieved from: http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/VaccJegedeNigeria.pdf
Okeke, T. C., Anyaehie USB, Ezenyeaku CCK. (2012) An Overview of Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria. Ann Med Health Sci Res, 2(1), 70–73.
Oluwabamide A, Jegede S. (2008) Speaking HIV/AIDS Out in Nigeria: The Role of Indigenous Languages. International Journal of Language Society and Culture. 26, 107 – 112. Retreived from: http://www.educ.utas.edu.au/users/tle/journal/issues/2008/26-10.pdf